Community Legal Assistance Society Publishes Report on BC’s Mental Health System

22 January 2018

By Emily Amirkhani

On November 29, 2017, Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) published its report “Operating in Darkness: BC’s Mental Health Act Detention System”, and an accompanying press release.

The report details the deprivation of rights faced by mental health patients who are involuntarily admitted under the current BC Mental Health Act. The use of restraints and seclusion, treatment without consent, and lack of adequate oversight are among the issues explored.

The report states that BC’s mental health system has fallen behind other provinces due to its failure to engage in systemic review, and recommends an independent law reform commission be established to overhaul the Mental Health Act. The report emphasizes that “The Mental Health Act detention system does not just need a few amendments or tweaks, it needs to be overhauled.” The report also sets out specific recommendations aimed at the BC Government, Mental Health Review Board, Ministries of Health and Mental Health and Addiction, Legal Services Society, and Office of the Ombudsperson.

Recommendations for the BC Government include a call to review and amend the Mental Health Act to:

  • Create legal criteria to govern the use of restraints and seclusion;
  • Create a statutory framework for prompt, independent rights advice on detention and detention renewal;
  • Establish equal health care consent rights for physical and mental health care decisions;
  • Ensure legal reviews of detention take place at periodic intervals for all detainees; and
  • Create an independent administrative body that provides effective oversight of the conditions of detention.

In addition, there are recommendations for the Mental Health Review Board aimed at improving process and procedure with respect to Review Panel Hearings, as well as addressing oversight and accountability mechanisms for the Review Panel.

Recommendations directed at the Ministries of Health and Mental Health and Addiction focus on the creation of standardized provincial policies and training to assist in remedying many of the issues identified by CLAS in the areas of detention decisions; the use of restraints and seclusion; access to information and legal advice; documentation and authorization of psychiatric treatment; Review Panel Hearing processes; and oversight mechanisms of the Mental Health Act detention system.

Finally, the report recommends that the Legal Services Society improve funding available to detainees, and that the Office of the Ombudsperson review the scope of their current systemic investigation of the BC system for Mental Health Act detentions and forced psychiatric treatment.

The issues of consent to health care and the use of restraints in the context of older adults in BC are topics under consideration by the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Society of BC, in their current project: Health Care Consent, Aging and Dementia: Mapping Law & Practice in BC.

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